With the growth of the Chinese market, the global stage for design is shifting eastward. Roger Lin, the Vice President of Nova Design has experienced this transformation first hand. In the past, due to the OEM and ODM industrial model, design in Taiwan was focused on manufacturing products for the Western market. With Western brands now attempting to enter the Chinese market, that focus has changed. These companies are understanding that their products and services need to suit the requirements and preferences of the Chinese market. “The focus of the global design industry has shifted from the West onto the Chinese market, and we are fortunate enough to be part of this historic change,” he states.
80 percent of a design should address universal, human-centric needs and values, and 20 percent of a design should cater to regional preferences, Lin states. Designers should be strive to balance the behaviors of international consumers against ergonomics, and at the same time, designers need to be aware of differences across regions and cultures. This will create diversity in design. Industrial design is a product of modern industrialism, and as such, many products are developed as a reaction to the needs and the economic situation of the consumer. Design products, therefore, have become a measure for evaluating the progress of society. This is part of the reason why the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution were also the drivers of design trends.
When Western companies attempt to expand into the Chinese market, they realise that regional preferences, that 20 percent of a design, are becoming more and more important. Due to China’s market-focused economy, these brands have to invest in understanding these different regional demands and then learning how to incorporate them into their products. “Nova Design started to receive queries from Western brands that were trying to enter the Chinese market,” Lin explains. “We are in direct communication with the market, which made us an attractive company to work with. We also have a ‘design research’ tool that helps us translate marketing language into product design language. This allows us to switch roles between marketing and designing. We have a front row seat in this period of historical change.”
What exactly is the Chinese market demanding? Lin cites a case in which Nova Design was tasked with designing a refrigerator line for Midea Group in China five years ago. The company’s research revealed that there were strong differences in exterior aesthetics and function preferences across tier-one and tier-two Chinese cities. Consumers in tier-one cities preferred the simple, sleek designs favored by Western brands, which in their eyes were indicative of an elegant, high-end product. Consumers in tier-two cities preferred designs with more detail; they were looking for products that were more fun, and more eye-catching.
As consumers in tier-one Chinese cities started to shop for their groceries on a weekly basis, their fresh produce storage requirements changed. They preferred fridges with flexible compartments and the option for independent temperature control incorporated into the design. “In the hypermarkets in Taiwan, you see 20 refrigerator models at most. In China, there are often more than a hundred options available. This taught us that different lifestyles, different habits of use, and different values and preferences will greatly influence fridge design trends. This shift in market perception is helping to lift the status of design and provides the industry with space to grow.
The user, the environment, the product, and the way they all interact together are the most important elements to consider when thinking about design. “When targeting the Chinese market, a designer has to have a thorough understanding of the environment, the user habits, and the values of Chinese people. At the same time, the designer needs to connect all these elements together in a logical way, because a superficial design won’t attract or move a consumer,” Lin says.
About Roger Lin
Roger Lin is Vice President of Design at the global industrial design company, Nova Design. He graduated in industrial design from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Taiwan, and completed his postgraduate degree in the Department of Industrial and Commercial Design at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST). He has 25 years of experience in the design industry, and has participated in the design of over 500 projects, from transportation vehicles, 3C products, and fitness equipment to medical equipment and culture/creative products. From 1998 onwards, Lin has been working in the field of design education.
He currently serves as a part-time assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Commercial Design at NTUST, a position in which he can share his experience in the integration of practical and theoretical design. Roger Lin also serves on the judging panels of various renowned domestic and international design competitions including YODEX, Computex d&i awards, the Taiwan International Design Competition, the Y.S. Award, and the Liteon Award.